The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has tested a prototype of a low-cost elevated sensor mast on-board the US Navy's commissioned Cyclone-class patrol coastal ship USS Zephyr for the first time.

The three-day trial period saw the crew of the 174ft-long naval vessel evaluate the prototype of DARPA’s Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) near Naval Station Mayport, Florida.

TALONS exhibited safe and routine operation from USS Zephyr’s deck under different sea states and wind conditions during the trials, without adversely affecting the vessel’s operational capability.

The system also significantly improved USS Zephyr’s communication range between itself and remote platforms such as the vessel’s rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs).

It also enhanced the ship’s capacity to detect, track and classify objects of interest.

In addition, the test showed that TALONS could persistently suspend intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) instruments and communications payloads of up to 150lb when towed behind boats or vessels at altitudes between 500ft and 1,500ft above sea level.

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DARPA Tactical Technology Office programme manager Scott Littlefield said: “We’re very pleased with the USS Zephyr testing, which showed that a future system based on TALONS could provide operational benefits for even small navy vessels.”

Littlefield added that the organisation intends to continue its collaboration with the US Navy next year in order to work towards the full automation of launch and recovery operations.

"We’re very pleased with the USS Zephyr testing, which showed that a future system based on TALONS could provide operational benefits for even small navy vessels."

This will make the use of TALONS easier on manned vessels, as well as increase compatibility with unmanned surface vessels.

USS Zephyr commanding officer lieutenant commander Cameron Ingram said: “Expectations were really exceeded with the ease of not only deployment, but the recovery of the system.

Beyond the initial launch, it immediately stabilised, and it had a very smooth transition all the way up to altitude.”

TALONS is part of DARPA’s Phase I research for Tern, which is a joint programme between the organisation and the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR).

Image: DARPA’s TALONS research effort recently demonstrated its prototype of a low-cost, elevated sensor mast on-board a commissioned US Navy vessel for the first time. Photo: courtesy of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.